Santa Ana is close to making deals with its service employees and police unions that would reduce by about half a projected $30-million budget deficit in the next fiscal year, city officials confirmed this week.
An agreement with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association — which includes close to $13 million in concessions — goes to a vote of the association's general membership next week, and the city is close to hammering out a deal with service employees that would save the general fund about $2.2 million, according to city officials.
But much of the givebacks from police are in the form of deferred expenditures, city officials said, making the potential concessions part of only a temporary fix to a massive, built-in budget deficit that won't be closed until permanent changes are made to city operations.
"To be honest with you, it's something to get us through right now, because we don't have reopeners," said Councilman Sal Tinajero, referring to the police association's locked-in labor contract with the city. "I think this buys about 18 months."
The city signed labor agreements with its public safety bargaining groups within the last year that extend through 2013 and 2014, deferring some expenditures but not saving nearly enough to stave off the budget crisis. Nearly 80 percent of the general fund is spent on public safety.
The police association's contract extension, which was signed in April, gave officers a 3 percent across-the-board salary raise in July. Firefighters under their current contract are set to receive a 2.5 percent raise in January.
The potential new deals include larger contributions by police officers and service employees toward their pensions, cuts to overtime for police and a second unpaided furlough day each month for service employees, according to sources close to the negotiations.
Under the proposed agreement, police do not get layoff protection, which, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, was a major sticking point. "We're not in a position financially to guarantee that," Tinajero said.
The agreements also come close to an end-of-November deadline council members had set for themselves to finish deals with the city's labor groups so that some savings could be implemented by January.
"At this point I feel more optimistic with regard to where things are going than I did a few days ago, because it does look like things are progressing," said Councilman David Benavides.
When asked what would happen if council members don't meet their deadline, Benavides responded emphatically: "We will."
Negotiations with the Santa Ana Firemen's Benevolent Association, meanwhile, have essentially frozen until a city-commissioned study of outsourcing fire services to the Orange County Fire Authority is completed.
Tinajero has maintained that, unlike police, the fire association did not offer concrete concessions to help solve the budget crisis, leading to the outsourcing study. Fire Association President Chris Roelle has, in the past, complained about a lack of communication between the association and interim City Manager Paul Walters, who is also the city's police chief.
The situation is unusual because firefighters, seen as the labor group closest to Mayor Miguel Pulido, are usually the first to agree to deals with the city.
"The interim city manager [Walters] has proposed the outsourcing of the Santa Ana Fire Department to the County and we are all awaiting the results of the study that he has commissioned. Until then, it is very difficult to start the process to discuss any details," Roelle said in a statement emailed to Voice of OC.